Good ending for Lady Vols’ season
Posted: Monday, February 27, 2012 7:00 pm
By BETH RUCKER
AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — All season long people have wanted to know what’s next for Pat Summitt and her Tennessee Lady Volunteers.
The Hall of Fame coach has always kept her focus on the next game, refusing to speculate about her future after being diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
Sunday was no different in the final home game of the season that attracted 18,563 fans, the largest crowd to fill Thompson-Boling Arena all season.
The 10th-ranked Lady Vols, who have already gone through a disappointing season with the most losses on the court named for Summitt, celebrated senior day with a 75-59 win over Florida that put Tennessee in second place in the Southeastern Conference regular season.
They’ll face the winner of Vanderbilt-Mississippi State in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament on Friday.
“We’ve got to be on every day,” Summitt said during her postgame radio show. “We’ll have some time to prepare, but it goes fast and we’ll just really have to have the focus and the toughness.”
The Lady Vols (21-8, 12-4) have struggled this season at times, losing at home to South Carolina and Arkansas for the first time ever. They narrowly avoided tying their regular-season loss record of nine, set during the 1996-97 season and tied by the 2008-09 squad.
Florida entered the game having won five of its last seven, but hardly threatened Tennessee.
The Gators hit the first shot of the game, a 3-pointer from Jordan Jones. The Lady Vols answered with a 15-0 run behind their five seniors, who each started the game, and they never relinquished the lead.
“We knew that they were going to come out intense, fiery,” Jones said. “That’s on us that we didn’t answer like we have all season long. Honestly, we start slow a lot and normally we’re able to bounce but against a great team like Tennessee and on their home court, it is not possible to do.”
Florida hit some layups and a pair of 3s that cut Tennessee’s lead to 17-13 with 9:59 in the first half, but the Gators wouldn’t get any closer than four points for the rest of the game. The Lady Vols led by 35-25 at halftime and led by at least eight throughout the second half.
Tennessee gave Florida opportunities to get back in the game with 19 turnovers, many of them unforced. The Gators couldn’t capitalize with 37.9 percent shooting and 20 turnovers of their own.
Lily Svete scored 12 for Florida. Jennifer George added 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Lanita Bartley scored 11 points. Florida earned the SEC tournament’s eight seed and will face Auburn on Thursday.
“We were beat by a very good team,” Florida coach Amanda Butler said. “I felt like we were outplayed in a lot of ways, and that was disappointing. Again, it is a great team on their home floor on a very emotional night, and you have to give them credit for the tone they set from the beginning.”
Johnson led Tennessee with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Shekinna Stricklen added 15 points, Meighan Simmons had 12 and Alicia Manning scored 11.
Johnson, Stricklen, Manning and the rest of Tennessee’s seniors are on a mission to at least reach the national semifinals of the NCAA tournament this season to avoid becoming the first Lady Vols class never to reach a Final Four.
“It’s a new season,” Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “You’ve got the SEC tournament, you’ve got the NCAA tournament, and it’s a new season.”
Published in The Messenger 2.27.12